Self-harm is a term that can be used for a variety of problems
including distressed youth who superficially cut their skin to deal with their
suffering, children with severe autism spectrum disorder who take
self-stimulation too far, or attempted suicide.
Each of these are quite different from each other in terms of etiology
and interventions. This fact sheet discusses only youth who cut their skin or cause themselves physical injury
with other methods to deal with their emotional suffering.
Other terms for self-harm include “cutting,” “self-injurious
behavior,” and “nonsuicidal self injury.”
Cutting is Common
In a study of 10-14 year-old females recruited from
schools and advertisements to represent a lower socioeconomic community sample (Hilt
et al., 2007), researchers found the following:
- 56% admitted to engaging in various forms of
self-injurious behaviors at some point in their lifetimes. This rate is higher than that found in most
other studies, and may be due to their recruitment from a lower socioeconomic
population, and by counting less severe forms of self-harm (picking at a wound,
pulling hair, and hitting oneself) compared to other studies.
- For just the more severe forms of self-harm
(cutting, carving, or burning one’s skin), the rate was 22% lifetime, which is
more consistent with other studies.
- 36% admitted to doing it within the past
year. Within only this 36% of the sample,
they engaged in self-harm an average of 12.8 times in the past year.
- The average age at the first incident was 10.2
- 94% of them reported feeling no pain from the
- Only 4% had suicidal intent while doing it.
Estimates of how common cutting occurs among the general
population of adolescents range from 5% to 38%, depending on how cutting is
measured and what type of sample is studied (Patton et al., 1997; Rodham et
al., 2004; Ross & Heath 2002; Favazza, 1992; Gratz et al. 2002).
Studies consistently show that females engage in self-harm
about 2-3 times more frequently than males (Laye-Gindhu & Schonert-Reichl,
Why Do Youths Cut?
The most common reasons given for self-harm include feeling
depressed, feeling alone, feeling like a failure or feeling angry at oneself,
feeling a need to hurt oneself, and needing a way to distract their minds from
other problems (Laye-Gindhu & Schonert-Reichl, 2004).
How to Find Specialists
You can find
specialists in the New Orleans region by clicking above on Find a
Provider. Next, in the search box for Issues, select from
the drop-down menu the option for Self-Harm.
If you are a
provider who specializes in treating self-harm, or know someone who does,
please share that information with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Favazza, A. R. (1992). Repetitive self-mutilation.
Psychiatr. Ann. 22: 60–63.
Gratz, K. L., Conrad, S. D., and Roemer, L. (2002). Risk
factors for deliberate self-harm among college students. Am. J. Orthopsychiatry
Hilt LM, Cha CB, Nolen-Hoeksema S (2008). Nonsuicidal
Self-Injury in Young Adolescent Girls: Moderators of the Distress–Function
Relationship. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 76,1:63-71.
Laye-Gindhu A, Schonert-Reichl KA (2004). Nonsuicidal
Self-Harm Among Community Adolescents: Understanding the “Whats” and “Whys” of Self-Harm.
Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Vol. 34, No. 5, October 2005, pp. 447–457
Patton, G. C., Harris, R., Carlin, J. B., Hibbert, M. E.,
Coffey, C., Schwartz, M., and Bowes, G. (1997). Adolescent suicidal behaviors: A
population-based study of risk. Psychol. Med. 27: 715–724.
Rodham, K., Hawton, K., and Evans, E. (2004). Reasons for
deliberate self-harm: Comparison of self-poisoners and self-cutters in a community
sample of adolescents. J. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiatry 43(1): 80–87.
Ross, S., and Heath, N. (2002). A study of the frequency
of self mutilation in a community sample of adolescents. J. Youth Adolesc.